New York City is rolling out its Neighborhood Safety Coalitions (NSC), a new program designed to combat prejudice in the wake of a historic rise in anti-Semitic incidents.
After 2019 saw a 26% rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York City – capped by particularly violent incidents in nearby Jersey City and Monsey in December – Mayor Bill de Blasio in January announced the formation of Neighborhood Safety Coalitions in Williamsburg, Crown Heights and greater Boro Park, the three Brooklyn neighborhoods most affected by anti-Semitic crimes.
Overseen by the city’s Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes (OPHC), the NSCs are comprised of leaders of the Jewish community, and leaders of other faith and ethnic communities in these neighborhoods, as a means of promoting tolerance and understanding, with the goal of reducing hate-motivated crimes.
The NSCs held their initiation meeting Wednesday evening in the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza.
“What we’re trying to get at here is systemic, proactive change, through education and through community relations,” Deborah Lauter, Executive Director of the OPHC, told the gathered NSC leaders. “What we’re doing here is being watched across the country and literally across the world. I’ve spoken with foreign ministers who are saying, ‘This is really cool, can you keep us posted, we want to learn from what you’re doing.’”
The city is supplying $200,000 for each neighborhood’s NSC, which can be spent on staffing and programming.
The attendees from each of the three neighborhoods split up into groups to discuss initial plans for their NSC. Some plans discussed included neighborhood walks, pop-up tents, and having communal leaders speak at schools,.
“I think this has potential to really foster an understanding between various communities and go a long way toward preventing hate crimes and allowing everyone to live in peace and harmony,” Yanky Itzkowitz, coordinator of Williamsburg Shomrim, told Hamodia.
Rabbi David Niederman, Executive Director of the United Jewish Organizations (UJO) of Williamsburg and South Brooklyn, discussed, how years ago, Jewish, black and Hispanic leaders in his neighborhood united in opposition to the city’s plan to install a garbage incinerator in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
“We can learn from that success and use that as a model of how to fight prejudice in communities and work together,” said Rabbi Niederman.
“The work is not always going to be comfortable or convenient,” said Tajh Sutton, president of Community Education Council District 14 in Williamsburg. “The shared history between different cultures in the community isn’t always necessarily positive … it’s okay to say those things, because the work really comes out of having honest conversations.”
Edward Powell, of the 70th Precinct Community Council, who participated in the Boro Park NSC meeting, told Hamodia that hate crimes stem from “ignorance – people acting and reacting out of mis-education.”
“That created an environment that’s really toxic,” said Powell. “Ignorant people doing dumb things. We’re trying to counter that ignorance with education and engagement.”
Wednesday’s initiation meeting comes as the city is engaged in a multi-pronged proactive approach toward combatting hate crimes, including through educating youth about tolerance.
The Department of Education has designated Feb. 10-14 of this year as “Respect for All” week, when representatives of various communities will visit public schools. The City Council’s “hate violence prevention initiative” last year allocated $1 million to 15 organizations representing vulnerable populations, such as Jews, Muslims and immigrants, to help with education and to encourage reporting of bias incidents. The city is providing free tickets for public-school students and their families to the Auschwitz exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The Education Department has already provided teachers with resources for discussing respect and tolerance with their students, and beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, an anti-hate-crimes curriculum will be instituted in all city public schools.